Ship-breaking begins

Frigate: Under a $3.8 million Navy contract, workers at Sparrows Point will start dismantling the USS Patterson on Monday.

November 06, 1999|By Kristine Henry | Kristine Henry,SUN STAFF

In what could signal a steady stream of new work for hundreds of Sparrows Point shipyard employees, Baltimore Marine Industries Inc. has received its first vessel to be dismantled.

In its final passage, the frigate USS Patterson arrived at the shipyard about midnight Thursday from Philadelphia after being towed by a tug through the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal.

Baltimore Marine won a $3.8 million Navy contract in September to scrap the ship. Work is expected to begin Monday.

The contract means work for 200 employees for about seven months. If the job goes well, the yard could see additional contracts for dismantling ships. The Navy has about 180 ships that need to be scrapped, said Steve Sullivan, vice president of Baltimore Marine.

In addition, the U.S. Maritime Administration has about 100 ships that need to be dismantled.

"We see this as having strong potential for opening a new line of business for the yard that will produce both jobs and revenue," Sullivan said.

The ship-breaking industry has come under pressure to comply with anti-pollution and worker-safety laws. The attention follows a series of articles in The Sun in December 1997 that documented deaths, accidents, fires, mishandling of asbestos and environmental violations in the industry at ports around the country and overseas.

A Defense Department review panel called for better management of the scrapping program, including stepped-up inspections and clearer guidelines for ship-breaking.

Last year, Congress approved legislation setting up a pilot program to test new methods of scrapping ships and to better determine the costs. Baltimore Marine is one of several yards in the pilot project. Baltimore Marine, formerly Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s BethShip, had revenue of $58.3 million last year. The yard was nearly scrapped after Bethlehem Steel put it up for sale in 1996. Two deals failed, and the company sold the yard to Veritas Capital Inc. for $16 million after originally seeking $30 million.

The yard stopped building most ships in 1990, though it still makes barges. Though most of its revenue comes from repairing ships, it is expanding its horizons. In addition to securing the ship-breaking contract, Baltimore Marine is working on a four-phase Navy project to build floating piers. About 200 workers are building steel components the size of trailer-trucks that fit together like Legos to create various methods of getting military cargo off ships when a port is not available. If the company is awarded the work for all four phases, it will bring the yard about $500 million.

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